Does Cryptocurrency Need Insurer Buy-in to Reach the Mainstream?
The cryptocurrency industry has been enduring very public growing pains after being thrust into the media spotlight during its remarkable boom and subsequent downturn. Mainstream acceptance has come in fits and starts, with regulatory approval proving hard to come by for a variety of reasons – not least of which the ever-present risk of theft via hacking or other means, which pose an especially large obstacle to attracting investment from mainstream institutions.
Because crypto holdings are only accessible via a specific private key, they are susceptible to loss – literally, if the key is written on a piece of paper or a physical hard drive, methods of offline ‘cold storage’ – or through hacks if held in an online wallet. Reuters reports that over $800 million in crypto assets were stolen in the first half of 2018, creating justifiable concern for both owners and mainstream financial institutions alike.
Some type of insurance coverage would potentially mitigate the risks inherent to owning crypto assets – if insurers are willing to play ball. Asia has been quicker to embrace regulations for crypto markets. Thomas Cain, a regional director of commercial risk solutions for Aon in Asia, told Reuters the risk advisor “[received] some two dozen inquiries [in 2018] from exchanges and crypto vaults seeing insurance.” He clarified that it is “not difficult” to insure companies holding significant crypto assets, but “given the newness of the asset class and the publicity some of the crypto breaches have received, applicants need to try to distinguish themselves.”
This newness often works to crypto’s disadvantage. An unnamed cryptocurrency broker says that “insurers struggled to understand [cryptocurrency] and its implications,” resulting in limited coverage. Some industry figures believe the dearth of insurance coverage “is a deterrent to large fund managers from investing in a nascent market” without the additional safety net of comprehensive regulations. “Most institutionally minded crypto firms want to buy proper insurance, and in many cases, getting adequate insurance coverage is a regulatory or legal requirement,” Henri Arslanian, a crypto and fintech expert for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Asia.
But there are signs things may be changing. Fidelity and Japanese investment bank Nomura “launched platforms [to] offer custody service for digital assets” – solutions that, if acceptable for traditional institutions, may help alleviate insurance problems. It would be a boom in the movement towards institutionalization of cryptocurrency assets at a time when a Greenwich Associates survey from September 2018 says 72 percent of asset managers polled “believe crypto has a place in the future.” In the interim, it remains an open question whether the correct infrastructure will be put into place.
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